Last week, for our internal communicator’s club meeting, I presented some Tips for Effective Writing. Those who attended the session were mostly developers. And, that’s why it was even more useful for them. To help understand the core need for communication, we used a picture quiz, which you and I will discuss through this post.
Look at the following pictures (courtesy: Internet). The first picture is of Lotus Temple, New Delhi, and not of Sydney’s Opera House. The other picture is a multi-utility tool, also called Swiss knife. Here’s a question for you:
How do you think the two pictures contrast?
Before you begin answering the question, here’s a little built up for it:
As a seeker of information, I am like every other “user” or “audience” – I am like YOU, dear reader. I prefer to take the shortest or quickest path to the resolution. Much like you, I get petrified when I can’t find the shortest route. Much like you, I get petrified when I see unorganized or insufficient information. It’s as simple as that. This puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of technical communicators and user experience (UX) designers. Sadly, there is still no guarantee that we, the information seekers, would access the right information tidbit at the right time; or even if we do, we get to use it correctly. This means, despite all efforts by technical communicators and UX designers, the communication remains incomplete if the seekers can’t get to – or comprehend – the right information or the right tool at the right time.
Given that background, look at the first picture.
Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who seek answers to oneness and peace, go to Lotus Temple. Don’t drift: the name is indicative. So you can take any temple, mosque, church, or even faith. Seekers like you might have a lot of questions, but each of those questions will lead to only one answer: of realizing the seeker’s true self. So, there may be numerous problems that might lead to just one solution. This resembles the Sanskrit hymn, Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti, which largely translates to “That which exists is One. Brahmin (Sages) call it by various names.” Rather than seeking the solution, seek for what you wish to solve – the need. That’s how even I have organized the content for you.
Look at the second picture.
Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who wish to complete a task or resolve their issues will seek such a tool. A tool, which has one unique solution for every problem. A tool, which can do a lot, but only dedicatedly. Seek, if you must, the need. The tool is still only a medium to accomplish; it’s a means to achieve, not the end.
But before talking about contrast, let us take a minute to discuss a little about what’s common for both the pictures. The only common thing is the need. The need to discover, resolve, and accomplish; the need to get things done; and the need to get questions answered.
So, here’s the contrast: the contrast is in having one universal solution versus a unique solution for every problem. The contrast is also in stressing the presence of the right information tidbit and of the right tool both at the same time. For the seeker’s shortest route to the resolution is the one that contains a quick and unique solution to their problems; the one that addresses the need.
What’s the lesson for the seekers and technical communicators?
The rules of grammar stand true and remain unchanged. However, there still are different ways in which we can compose, express the same information. Similarly, even though there are style guides and standards, there are hundreds of scenarios that we can count as exceptions. Probably, that’s why we see the Microsoft’s Manual of Style, fourth edition, mention “Microsoft” and “Not Microsoft” ways of creating content, unlike the “correct” and “incorrect” ways in their third edition of the book.
We should choose based on what’s needed, required from the content. There lies harmony where both technical communicators’ and information seekers’ needs meet.
We all learn. And, here’s the post on one such thing I learned, recently. For one of the projects I worked before I switched jobs last week, I was the only tech-comm contributor who held the dual role of preparing technical content as well as marketing collateral for the flagship product.
Until that time, I thought that technical writing made me be proud of one habit of pursuit: Perfection. I have grown, learned with time. And, I have gradually improved on my work and writing style. Consequently, I have developed this habit of looking for perfection in what I deliver, both in my work and in the blogs I publish.
The tasks required me to prepare the “usual” user and administration guides and then some customer-facing, enticing marketing collateral to increase the purchases of our products. I took up that dual role on the special requests from the content writing team lead, because I – being the sole writer for the thread – could explain the products’ core strengths.
Though there were a lot of things that I improved upon in the project, there were some that I had to leave untouched as I wrapped up. Friday was my last day at the office. I also had the other engagements at my home to look into before I joined my new company on Monday. So, I was hardly left with any energy and time to manage the tasks pending with me.
I knew – and still know – that had I tried harder, I could have managed a couple of additional edit iterations on the marketing collateral I prepared. I wanted to share only the perfect content with my then customers and colleagues, but I was short of time. Just one more write-up. One more edit iteration cycle; another better version. One more day. One more feature. One more document. One more inch toward perfection… just… one… more…
Please realize that I don’t WANT to commit mistakes – no one wants to. Also, I don’t think that I am perfect. But, knowing that fact does not – and cannot – stop me from TRYING to be perfect. And, here comes the wisdom: I AM WRONG.
Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken.
The truth is: One of the biggest challenges in technical communication is feedback. And, it is good to assume that even if the users provide feedback, it is only for what (they know or they think they know) is missing from your documentation. Assumptions are good. So, if they never get back to you, you can ASSUME that you are good to go. Like it or hate it, it has always been the way to go for technical communicators.
But, if that is true, then what is perfection?
Perfection is the state of being “all correct” in a situation, given a premise, under specific parameters, and at a certain point in time. Given that to be true – I can’t find a definition better than that – I think perfection is BAD. It stops you from progression. Progression toward a version better than you created. Perfection is status quo. And, I want to continue to flow. I want to continue to evolve.
The ancient Indian literature is full of symbolism. But, the documents from the relatively recent history are no less full of insights and wisdom. During one of my regular conversations recently, someone shared something really interesting with me, which made me write this post. Right, so the verses in the post are originally composed (and possibly sung) by Saint Tukaram, a popular Poet-Philosopher-Contributor from the early 17th century. He is known for his devotional poetry, but is known to have educated community in general toward logical devotion toward the almighty. Click here to read this post.
Next month, I am conducting a couple of workshops at the STC India Annual Conference, in Pune. I like to talk about technical communication. And, at the conference, I’ll meet a lot of those would like to talk to me about this faculty of knowledge. Also, information design, as a topic, has always fascinated me. And, this time, I am conducting the workshops on the same topic.
In one of my recent interactions, with the Information Design batch at the National Institute of Design, we discussed some design principles. This is one of the reasons I chose to talk about information design at the annual conference. I see that a lot of new writers in our faculty of knowledge are turning toward information design. And, all this just makes me more curious about the topic.
I plan to keep the same flow of thoughts for both the workshops: I will make my point; then I will help you explore the topic; and then we all will draw conclusions on it. The first workshop is on the pre-conference day, and the second on 11 December. You can read more about the first and second workshop using the following links: Workshop#1 and Workshop#2.
The colleagues at my office too are excited about the workshops. In fact, some of them have asked me about how they too can attend the conference. In case you have not registered for the conference, do so quickly. Those of you who regularly follow me on the social network have asked me questions about the workshops. One such question is about a typical format of workshops. That is an interesting question. In fact, that’s how I began my research when I was invited to speak at the conference.
My research says that every workshop (and the speaker) is different. So, there cannot be a fixed format for workshops. However, I think there is one template that every speaker follows: First, make a point and describe it; second, create an exercise for the attendees; third, restate your point in light of the exercise to help your attendees connect the new insights with the thought you initially established; and in the end, leave your attendees with a thought.
But, there is one thing I would hate to do at my workshop: lecture about things. This is YOUR time as much as it is mine. To be a little too specific, you have two hours with me on the pre-conference day (that is 10 December), and 45 minutes on the day that follows (that is 11 December). Please remember that these are interactive workshops. So, the topics cannot steer ahead if YOU don’t participate.
At the workshops, I aim to talk about some intuitive design principles that can help map the need of the user with the benefits of your products/service. But, unlike what most of us think, these principles do not belong to information design. The principles are what I call the torchbearers, because they remain same no matter what faculty of knowledge I apply. This is enough now: I won’t spill the beans! Attend the workshops to know more.
Information communication is a cyclical process, much like the usual purchase decisions that you take. So, if we can wear the shoes of our users and understand their requirements, we can write better documents or even project the information-communication more effectively. In this blog post, I try to find those effective checkpoints using the purchase-decision analogy. We will take daily-life examples, such as using mobile applications to searching for “mobile phones” versus searching purposefully for “new Android phones under 10,000.” The analogy lends us some interesting insights that can help us communication information effectively. Let’s explore.
Heuristics, unlike what most of us know, is not ONLY about the trial-and-error way of doing things. Heuristics are those basic guidelines that mostly cover the generic application of common sense. And, I don’t see a better faculty than technical communication to apply this technique. Here’s what I have to share.
In this post, I take a closer look at the localization project in which my team and I assisted. I take cues from this project, and the similar ones that I have done previously, to discuss the top-three points for localization. This post is special to me, because it has helped me unfold those chapters of my life, which I had come to forget. If you are new to localization, this post will help you scratch its surface. If you already are into this field, I hope that the post will help add some new points to your localization plans. Click here to read the full post.
In response to a reader’s question, I explore the impact of soft skills on the trends in technical communication. But, do the skills and trends have anything in common? Can the soft skills affect trends? If yes, how? Well, there are a lot of questions. And, I attempt to solve some of them in this post. Read the full post.
Have you ever come across a poorly written write-up? Have you ever felt that you could have written better? A couple of write-ups, which I read recently, drew my thoughts on writing about writing. I have always believed that anyone can write. But, if everyone can write, can everyone become a writer? I have explored this thought, and prepared a list (… which is not really an exhaustive one!) of guidelines that can help everyone write better. Read the full post.